How To #2
Connection: The Other Side of Peng Strength
by Mike Sigman
Just as a coin cannot have just one side, so can peng, the concealed core strength, not function without its obverse, connection. Peng is the motive power of Opening. Connection is the controlling power of Closing and is the slight extensive connection which allows the waist to actually control the hands.
The specialized motion of the internal martial arts which we are investigating in these expositions on the "physical side" of Qi requires that we start with these two basic building blocks, peng (see last issue) and Connection.
In the study of bio-mechanics, it is recognized that the same muscle may be used with various other groups of muscles, depending upon the task, to form different coordinative structures. To truly recoordinate the musculature in order to take advantage of structural optimums and the potential power of the torso musculature requires that we relax the localized tensions we've grown accustomed to and, quite softly (so as not to interfere), repattern our movements.
Once peng is understood and practiced within this framework, it doesn't take long before you can "will" a ground path to any point on the body (from the ground) for striking or receiving. Connection usually takes much longer to acquire as a honed skill because it can't rely heavily on the skeletal structure as a reference point, as does peng.
The learned physical skills of all of the internal arts use both peng and connection, and also, the very important accompanying qi phenomena are more directly approached using these two skills in the context of relaxation, intent, and whole body positioning.
"Tying" Procedures and Down-Force
Driving a peng-path up through the body, from the legs, to waist, to back, to arms, etc., is using the ground's strength to initiate movement and power. The route of force is the shortest distance through these paths.
Similarly, application of force in a downward direction uses the shortest pulling path from the point of application (e.g., the hand) to the middle of the body (the Dan Tien), and thence to the ground. Developing this "tying" of the application point to the Dan Tien, while not stepping into the use of localized tension, is one of the hard parts of the internal martial arts.
There are essentially two ways to correctly apply a down-force from the arms, depending on where the point of application is in relation to the Dan Tien. Relatively close applications allow us to partially use peng-strength at least from the shoulders down to the hands. Further applications require the development of real whole-body tying strength from the arms to the center.
When using this connection, or "tying" skill, sudden power releases come from the middle; primary storage is, again, from the back, augmented by the torso musculature. Proper training of the down power will result in markedly increased torso and thoracic musculature because the initiating power comes from those areas.
In our example of a downward pull on a partner's shoulder, there should first be a connection made from the hand to the middle by a slight extension of the area in between. Relax downward and allow some of the body's weight to relaxedly increase the weight of the hand on the shoulder. The elbow will come down naturally ("heavy side down").
Breathe in then breathe out, dropping the body slightly and allowing the arm-hand connection to convey the body drop onto the partner's shoulder through the extended arm. The stomach area distends on exhalation, which is through the nose, the intercostal rib muscles contracting simultaneously, but not with too much tension.
At first, this doesn't convey a lot of power to the shoulder-target. High-repetition practice is necessary more importantly, softness and concentration are also needed to insure that the major muscles involved are those of the torso and thorax, not the arm. Learn to pull down from the middle.
Practice changing the weight from the back leg onto the front leg as the exercise is performed, in order to enhance the transfer of momentum. The movement now will markedly resemble the application of "pi-chuan" from Xingyiquan.
Within the internal martial arts this motion, and many others, is trained by willing the weight, peng, and the application to the hand. Practice very slowly, breathing out through the palm and fingers of the hand, while the motion originates from the ground, is manipulated by the powerful torso, and is expressed through the hand. The body acts as a single connected unit, like an amoeba.
Almost zero force is used in the beginning internal practice of this exercise the mind directs the peng, the extended connection, the weight to the hand, and the breathing-out of qi through the hand. To train with force is a mistake which only leads to "li," the external force.
The rest of the body "ties" also. For instance, suspending from the crown of the head sets up a very mild tension with which to manipulate force, also.
Moving with the body core powered by peng and the external connected by the extended "sheathing of connected muscles" (anciently referred to as the fascia) is the quintessence of the internal martial arts. Oddly, some movements of this type elicit an almost palpable sensation known as the "external Qi." This phenomenon is a part of the movements of the internal, and we will try to focus more exclusively on this qi as our series progresses.
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